Unlike the Prelims Exam which will be over in just 2+2 (GS + CSAT) hours, Mains is more like a test match, conducted over five days and consists of a total of 27 writing hours (language papers included). When such a long battle has to be fought, you have to be mentally and physically strong to play it. Experts say that test cricket is the most beautiful and most challenging form of cricket when compared to other formats. It’s the same for the Mains Exam. Prelims, when taken, is over within a few hours and once you pass the cut-off marks in the GS paper, you would automatically clear Prelims, regardless of your marks. When you compare this to the Mains, you should not only pass the cut off marks for each subject but should also make sure that you stand better than the rest. This comes with solid planning and strategy. The Civil Services Mains Exam consists of Paper A (Compulsory Indian language), Paper B English, Paper I – Essay, Paper II – General Studies I – Indian Heritage & Culture, History & Geography of the World & Society, Paper III – General Studies II – Governance, Constitution, Welfare Initiatives, Social Justice & International Relations, Paper – IV- General Studies III – Technology, Economic Development, Agriculture, Biodiversity, Security & Disaster Management, Paper V – General Studies IV – Ethics, Integrity & Aptitude, Paper VI – Optional Subject – Paper I, Paper VII – Optional Subject – Paper-II. In the following paragraphs, I will be explaining how to prepare for each of these papers.
How to Prepare for the Essay
Kindly remember that you are writing an Essay and not a GS answer. You are not expected to write in bullet points and draw a figure down the corner to depict something. An Essay is a beautifully concocted thought on words. When you read an editorial in a newspaper and get significantly inspired by that, try to look at why it was beautiful. An Ideal Essay must have enough content, and the writer must be able to use the content to express in such a way that simplicity and elegance appear on it. To be very simple, even a common man should be able to understand a topic once they read the Essay. You have to have proper paragraph unity, coherence and structure when you write your Essay to get maximum marks.
How to Prepare for Paper-II (GS1)
Much of the content here has a static nature- History, Art & Culture, Geography etc. Hence, repeated revisions to understand the basic idea is required. Do not refer to multiple books, but revise the standard books over and over again. Refer to previous year’s questions to understand the nature of questions and prepare accordingly. The other half of the paper is Society, which is a more dynamic topic. Hence, you have to know the Indian Society in detail- its values, issues faced, vulnerable sections etc. Try to find data, reports, and recommendations to make the answer look more complete.
How to Prepare for Paper-III (GS2)
You would cover most of the topics in GS2 in your Prelims preparation itself, and hence additional lessons are not needed. The only thing that you have to remember is that when the questions are asked, try to write like a Polity student- give more importance to the constitutional angle, government schemes and implications and give secondary preference to the economic perspective. Try to convey the answer in a straightforward manner using figures and charts, but at the same time keep keywords like important articles, committee recommendations into the picture.
International Relations should be studied with a perspective of how different incidents affect India, what the reasons were and what steps India could take. Apply the same into the answer paper when the questions are asked.
How to Prepare for Paper-IV (GS3)
Consisting mainly of Economics and related subjects, try to approach this from an Economic Perspective. That should be your first level of thinking- couple that with relevant schemes, data and solutions, structure the answer well to convey your thoughts. For other topics like Science & Technology, Security, Disaster Management, etc., you have to know the underlying issue and then write about it in the Exam. For this refer to the previous years’ questions and understand the nature of questions asked to start preparing content.
How to Prepare for Paper-V (GS4)
The simplest of all GS papers would be GS4 – the Ethics paper. Kindly do not mug anything and recreate it in the actual paper. You are expected to write what you feel, and hence the content that you write must be made from your own words and understanding. GS4 paper has two parts- The Theory Part and The Case Studies Part- Give ample Examples, quotes, to prove your point and connect it to a theory when needed. All these must be after you express your thought to the Examiner. UPSC wants to know your stand on a question and not the Thinker’s.
How to Prepare for the Optional Paper
Since every Optional is different, only the standard points can be mentioned regarding the Optional preparation. Firstly, read previous years’ papers and prepare accordingly. Try to address the need for the question in the optional manner which is deep and not like how it is in the GS paper. Wherever possible, link Paper 1 topics with Paper 2 and vice-versa. Add figures and examples to make the content richer.
More than preparing for all these GS topics, what makes all the difference is understanding the Mains syllabus. Since a clear syllabus is given, I request you to refer the Complete Syllabus of Mains Exam to know all the keywords and prepare for each. Couple this with analysing past papers to understand how questions are asked. Start writing practise questions daily and do it till your hand aches or till you achieve your dream. Remember, Mains is a test match; build your momentum slowly and steadily. I wish you all the very best for your upcoming Mains Exam!